Saturday, February 27, 2010

Boeuf à la Bourguignonne

Sheesh! Writing this post has proved just as daunting as preparing the actual dish. It  has been the most time consuming, step-filled undertaking I've assumed on this here blog thingy. The sheer number of photographs alone was enough to shy me away from tackling the job for weeks.
I knew going into this that it was gonna be a monumental project. Just shopping for ingredients burned up an entire morning. The only way I was going to get through it was with total concentration. I sent Miss Muffy and Miss Thang off to the movies so that I could work undistracted. I built a timeline - counting backwards from serving to initial prep - created an iTunes playlist aptly labeled Hardcore, opened a bottle of wine and strapped on an apron.
People go to unheard of lengths for loved ones. I can't imagine doing this for a stranger or even a casual friend, unless it was their last meal or something. Hell, Christ himself probably wouldn't have bothered. But then, I'm a crazy person, and I was making this dish just as much for myself as anyone else. I needed to prove that I could do it, and do it well.
I'll let you be the judge.
Boeuf à la Bourguignonne - Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck
  • 6 oz piece of pancetta
  • 2 lbs lean stewing beef, cut into 2" cubes
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône or Burgundy)
  • 2½ - 3½ cups beef stock
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cloves mashed garlic
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • 1 crumbled bay leaf
  • 18 - 24 pearl onions
  • 3½ Tbsp butter
  • Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, ½ bay leaf, 2 thyme sprigs, tied in cheesecloth)
  • 1 lb mushrooms, fresh and quartered
Cut pancetta (rind removed) into lardons (sticks ¼" thick and 1½" long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1½ quarts water. Drain and dry.
Preheat oven to 450° F. Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a Dutch oven over moderate heat for 2 - 3 minutes to brown lightly. With a slotted spoon, remove to a side dish.
Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in Dutch oven until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Remove browned meat, adding it to the lardons.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.
Return the beef and pancetta to the casserole and toss with ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper.
Then sprinkle with the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole, uncovered, in the middle position of the preheated oven for 4 minutes.
Toss the meat again and return to the oven for 4 more minutes (this browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust).
Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325°.
Stir in wine and 2 - 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.
Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
Cover Dutch oven and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 - 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the pearl onions and mushrooms.
Heat 1½ tablespoons butter with 1½ tablespoons olive oil until bubbling in a skillet.
Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.
Add ½ cup beef stock, salt & pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.
Cover and simmer slowly for 40 - 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.
Wipe out the skillet and heat remaining olive oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms.
Toss and shake pan for 4 - 5 minutes. As soon as the mushrooms have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.
When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the Dutch oven through a sieve set over a saucepan.
Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.
Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming additional fat that rises to the surface. You should have about 2½ cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, reduce it rapidly over high heat. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of beef stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.
Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 - 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.
Arrange stew on a platter surrounded by noodles and decorated with chopped parsley.
I've never been so happy to get a meal to the table. I was spent. Exhausted. D.U.N., done. Even with Miss Muffy's help during the latter stages of preparation, I still felt like I'd gone twelve rounds in the boxing ring. But in the end, I had my arm raised overhead victorious. Oh, the flavor! The bloody French had done it again. Every component took center stage for an aria. Together, the chorus they created was operatic. (No mixed metaphors here, thank you very much!) There was a rich, authentic beef flavor, and the meat practically melted in the mouth. The complexity of the wine made the dish sing. The pearl onions and mushrooms added texture, shape and earthy substance. Julia's Beef Bourgogne makes my beef stew look like an old fishwife. Well, my stew is pretty damn good actually, but this, this was very nearly celestial. We savored every bite.
Boeuf à la Bourguignonne is not a dish one is gonna prepare at a moment's notice. In fact, it will probably be something you are only willing to attempt on the most special of occasions. But just because something is arduous or complicated is not a very good reason not to give it a try, at least not in my book anyway. But why listen to me, the second most stubborn person on the planet?
Bon apetit - Blog O. Food

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